Dream about sipping espressos in Rome, or walking along the Blue Danube in Vienna? Do you feel the need to ride a camel to work, or eat Indian food in India?
If you have the urge to work in another country, but still want to work for Uncle Sam, here’s your chance to sign on for a gig with the United States Foreign Service. It might be your last chance for awhile, so get moving. For the last several years, hiring in the United States Foreign Service was minimal because of a lack of Congressional funding. In addition, war had created an urgent need for diplomatic personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as officers have moved to these countries their previous jobs have remained unfilled. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, jobs might be frozen after 2013, but you still have time.
Not everyone is cut out for Foreign Service work. It can be stressful and highly demanding. About two-thirds of a diplomat’s career is spent overseas. Officers usually move every two to four years and can be exposed to dangers such as disease and war.
Hiring for Foreign Service specialists tends to lean more on actual skills and abilities than simply education. For most jobs, a person with no degree who has been working for 20 years in computers would fare better than a person with a just a college degree and no experience. The same holds true with other fields. Pam Medina, a recent hire from Los Angeles worked all over the world as the spouse of a career Marine. She had a lot of office-management experience, but she had no college degree. When she applied to the Foreign Service she was placed at the top of the hire list. The state Department is one of the few employers who look at the total person, not just paper.
Unfortunately, if you faint at the sight of a test, this job might not be right for you. But if you can suck it up and take out your No. 2 pencil, it will be worth it. Applying for a job with the State Department involves written and oral examinations. Those who pass the oral exam become conditional officers and receive a ranking score based on oral-exam performance and language skills. The higher the rank, the sooner they will be assigned.
Of the 12,000 to 15,000 people who register annually for the written exam, about 450 officers are hired. Foreign Service officers work on a range of projects such as assisting farmers in developing countries, or working in programs to reduce the prevalence of diseases such as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
If you’re a spy for another country, don’t bother applying. There is a background check. This process can take from six months to a year. Special Investigators working for the State Department will conduct an interview of you, your friends, family, co-workers, supervisors, your old teachers, that guy at Subway that you pissed off, and maybe old lovers. This is a job that our government takes very seriously.
The base salary for entry-level Foreign Service officers ranges from about $40,000 to $72,000 annually, but compensation can increase depending on the danger level of the posting and on a region’s cost of living.
For Foreign Service specialists, the salary range is anywhere from about $26,500 to more than $100,000; for civil service employees the salary ranges from $16,500 to over $100,000. Overseas benefits include housing and private school for dependent children.
To enter the US Foreign Service, you must be a US Citizen; age 20–59, medically fit, and able to receive a Top Secret clearance. The age is restricted to 35 if you want to join the Diplomatic Security services. To apply you must visit their website, read the requirements, and complete an on-line application.
For an in-depth look at this whole process, download the U.S. Department of State Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process document.